The 2 Bodhisattva Vows
Theravada legend has it that in a previous life the would-be-born-again-as Bodhisattva Gautama vowed to become liberated from the unpleasantness (Pali: dukkha) of death (Pali: mata, later mara, the Evil One). Liberation (Pali: vimokkha) from death would happen by ending life = samsara (= life = the recurrence of emerged phenomena decaying to death), ending (i.e. extinction) meaning nirvana, meaning the deathless ( Pali: amata, Sanskrit: amrita)
Gautama would achieve the deathless = nirvana by attaining samma-sambodhi = complete awakening (deliberately mistranslated by Christian interpreters - such as Rhys Davids - as ‘Perfect Enlightenment’).
Gautama attained samma-sambodhi by completely eliminating the defilements = the drivers of life, the asavas* (= intoxicants or poisons). These, he claimed, emerged from the false experience/interpretation of the transient (i.e. anicca), hence unpleasant (i.e. dukkha), emerged (hence not original = not own, i.e. anatta) interactions of the skandhas (Pali: khanda), i.e. of the body, sensations, perceptions, ideation and consciousness.
Therefore, the purpose of Bodhisattva endeavour - expressed and made real by Gautama’s Bodhisattva vow - was (and is) to end personal existence in order to attain the deathless = nirvana (to wit, extinction).
The immediate followers of the Tathagata emulated his ‘liberation from death (= life)’ mode by eliminating the defilements that caused life resulting in death. However, that was a brutally tough route to the deathless (see: The Rhinoceros Horn Sutta), with few immediate personal (and social!) benefits, consequently suitable only for professional dropouts.
In time, the sangha (i.e. the collective of professional escapist from life = death) adapted (life every species seeking fitness) to the realities of everyday existence, both personal and interpersonal, and invented a second, albeit slower route to the deathless = nirvana, namely the Noble Eightfold (in the earliest Jataka stories ten-fold (perfections)) Path + relic (read: stupa) worship + intentional merit transfer (as 3rd century b.c.e. inscriptions found at Sanchi and elsewhere have now revealed). Idealised in later Theravada doctrine, this route, and which would have been incomprehensible to the Tathagata Gautama, offered immediate personal benefits (to wit, dukkha reduction) and could be sold to and used by the laity who needed encouragement to provide for the escapists’ life style.
In short, whereas at first elimination of defilements (to wit, the asavas and/or klesas) was the sole (indeed extreme) route to the deathless = nirvana, now (politically and/or dharma ‘correct’, called Middle Way) perfection of personal behaviour and thought (note, how defilements (and all personal behaviour and thought, because caused (Pali: samudayadhamman), is defilement) could be perfected has never been fully explained by Theravadin speculation) became the norm (i.e. dharma; note, the term dharma (Pali: dhamma) has 17 accepted meanings, therefore is practically meaningless).
Round about the beginning of the common era, the latter escape from death = life variation was reinvented and upgraded into what would later be called the Mahayana, the Great Vehicle serving as means to the attainment of the deathless = nirvana. The inventors of Mahayana doctrine reinterpreted and elaborated the Bodhisattva vow to mean that the would-be Bodhisattva (indeed, mahāsattva = great person (??)) needed to achieve 6 perfections (rather than merely dump his or her defilements), create merit that had to be transferred to ‘all beings’ (thereby ‘bending’ the recipients person’s karma, a strange innovation indeed), worship previous Bodhisattvas, build relic repositories, i.e. stupas (i.e. for worship) and, most importantly, ‘sacrifice’ entry to the deathless = nirvana in order to hang around helping ‘all beings’ (i.e. wit all emerged phenomena) achieve the perfections, after which ‘all beings’ could depart this (life = death) for not-this (i.e. the deathless), possibly a that. Obviously the latter speculation, ‘caused’ by the belief (here understood as dharma) that samsara ≠ nirvana, was rendered redundant with the invention of the notion (possibly borrowed from Vedanta) of samsara = nirvana.
In short, whereas Gautama’s original Bodhisattva vow had been to eliminate personal existence to attain the deathless = nirvana, accomplished by and for the himself, therefore derided by Mahayanists as inferior (i.e. as Hinayana, because seemingly egotistical), the new Superior Yana Bodhisattva vow version appeared not only to be altruistic (i.e. ‘saving (i.e. liberating) oneself by saving (i.e. liberating) ‘all beings’’) but offered a reorganised ‘perfections’ path that commended itself to everyone (not in a hurry to attain the deathless), and especially to politicians (willing to pay well for having the populace trained (indeed, brainwashed) to be good = subservient) and to priests (hoping to get rich and powerful), nowadays mostly Tibetan émigrés who only recently achieved the supreme realization that in the U.S.A ‘There’s one born every minute’.
All that remained of the original Bodhisattva vow (to wit, the algorithm, later fractally elaborated as the sectarian dharmas (dharma here meaning: mode of enchantment) of dozens of Buddhist schools and hundreds of sects) was the clearly stated intention of eliminating personal existence (i.e. either alone (as in Hinayana) or together with ‘all beings’ (as in Mahayana).
That’s it (sans gloss)! The true Buddhist does not celebrate life. He celebrates the deathless = lifeless.
ü The asavas = poisons: the desire for sensory experience (read: lust), the urge to existence and the drive to mental speculation. Sometimes the ‘propensity to ignorance’ is included in the list.
ü The 6 perfections extolled by the Maha Yana are: giving (dana), morality (sila), vigour and wisdom (all originally Hinayana) + patience and meditation. 10 perfections are described in the earliest Jataka tales transmitted in Pali. The Noble Path has 8 perfections. Patanjali’s Yoga has only 1 (see Yoga aphorism No 2).